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Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Left destitute after the Civil War which pitted the Capitol against the districts, Coriolanus Snow has high hopes for getting ahead in life so that he’ll never have to be hungry again. When his teachers at the Academy announce that 24 students are going to mentor the 24 tributes in the 10th Hunger Games, Coriolanus Snow thinks this is his ticket to the top. But he’s assigned the female tribute from District 12 and all of his hopes are shattered. District 12 has never won a Hunger Games. It’s the poorest district. But when Lucy Gray Baird is reaped, he gets the shock of his life. Not only is she winsome and lithesome, but she’s also sneaky and intelligent like him. He can’t help but fall under her spell, especially every time she sings. But will his infatuation with Lucy Gray lead to his exaltation or his downfall?

Well if you’re like me, you already know the answer to that last question. We know the ending of the story is to some degree a foregone conclusion. But that doesn’t make this behind the scenes look at the Capitol and the Hunger Games any less fascinating. This is a long read with many parts. The first part is essentially Coriolanus, his backstory, how he got to this point, and the lead up to the Hunger Games, including the early parts of the Reaping and everything sort of surrounding how chaotic the early Hunger Games were. The second part is the Games itself and everything surrounding it, and the third part takes place in the districts post Hunger Games. Frankly I spent most of this book hating the main character. Snow is a villain protagonist. You weren’t supposed to like him. You aren’t supposed to be rooting for him. He is not a good person.

And I like how the author doesn’t try to hide that.

He is self-serving, selfish, classist, sexist, and racist even. He sees those as coming from the districts as lesser than barely even animals. And he’s not the only one. The whole Capitol sees the districts as lesser. The district tributes are held at the zoo. Their medicine is conducted by a veterinarian. It shows just how easily people can dehumanize other people. It’s a very very very clear reflection of what’s going on in today’s society and politics. There is a love story in this book between Snow and Lucy Gray. But make no mistake this is not a romance. The Hunger Games trilogy is arguably a romance, this is very much not.

There is no happy ending possible. Not just because Coriolanus is Capitol and Lucy Gray is from the districts, but also because Coriolanus does not see Lucy Gray as human. He sees her as an object. A possession. She is very clearly his girl, his tribute, his love. HIS!

Everything is framed around him. He is jealous. He is possessive. He is not a romantic hero. And I would love romance authors from all over to read this story and read the love story and understand that jealousy and possessiveness and objectification are not sexy. Because this story illustrates that so so well. It’s frankly creepy and disturbing. And that’s the bloody point.

I’ve been torn about what to write this. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed the original Hunger Games trilogy. But the book is incredibly well written. It’s full of details and beautiful writing. And frankly it’s got several good messages that you just have to sort of open yourself up to. There was no way that the author could capture the magic of the first trilogy again. And I’m glad she didn’t even try. This is a good prequel that sheds some light on the already sort of obscure universe of the Hunger Games. It’s got some good messages. It’s got good characters. Even Snow, for all of his awfulness, is a good character. I think this is a story that people need to think about and has some good messages. It’s not perfect. But it’s still one of the better YA books I’ve read.

And for that I give this… Five stars

If this is your jam, you can get it here. But seriously the price is obscene… get it from your library.

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